The cartoon that isn’t really good enough to be on afternoon TV is now a movie that isn’t really good enough to be in theaters. Unfortunately, it is, and it was my lot — along with one hapless friend (no one else would get near it) — to sit through it. Do not let this misfortune fall upon you. “It has to be nearly over, doesn’t it?” asked my friend, quite unaware that while the plot had been over for about 15 minutes, the movie still had another 40 very, very long minutes to go. A little later, he exclaimed, “This can’t be only 76 minutes long!” I assured him that it couldn’t very well be much more than that, since I’d seen the film in the cans and it was a scant four reels. In truth, it emerged that he was right. It wasn’t 76 minutes long, but 74 — 74 of the longest minutes ever put on this earth. I’ve sat through screenings of Gone with the Wind that seemed shorter. I admit I have but the most cursory familiarity with Hey Arnold in its nonmovie incarnation, and while I heartily endorse the concept of reviewers doing a little research, there are limits. I didn’t mind sitting through the Norwegian film on which Insomnia was based. I didn’t object to watching Blade prior to Blade II. I didn’t even especially bristle at catching up with Scary Movie to more readily understand the subtle whimsy of Scary Movie 2. But I’ll be damned if I was slogging my way through the collected works of Hey Arnold! Not the Movie by way of preparation for this event. I’ve yet to grasp the apparent compulsion for turning kiddie shows into feature-length films. Yes, I grew up on kiddie shows myself. I attribute much of what I am to the antics of Captain Kangaroo, Mr. Green Jeans, Bunny Rabbit, Mr. Moose and Grandfather Clock. And while roseate-tinged memory tells me that the Captain was superior to this stuff, I’m willing to admit that he probably wasn’t — and wouldn’t be now, were I foolish enough to seek out old episodes of the show. That said, at least the Captain had the good sense to leave his show on television, where it belonged. If only the makers of Hey Arnold! The Endurance Test had demonstrated that same good sense. The plot can be summed up in one line: Arnold’s never-never land echt-1950s neighborhood is threatened to be demolished by greedy developers, who can only be stopped by producing a lost document that declared the area a National Landmark. That’s it. And that idea gets spun out for 74 minutes. Didn’t The Simpsons do something like this a couple years ago — in the space of 30 minutes, including commercials and with a guest appearance by the Who? I can hear the rumblings of, “Relax, it’s only a kiddie movie,” but I’d really like to think that children deserve something a lot less slipshod than a movie that thinks we were still under British rule in 1890! I pity the American History teachers who have to contend with the fall-out from that. I concede that there’s a certain innate weirdness about Hey Arnold! The Atrocity. I mean, any movie that boasts a hero who looks like someone shoved a coat hanger into his head and whose mouth shifts from one side of his head to the other is certainly not normal. And the question remains: Does Arnold wear a dress? It certainly appears to be either a dress, a sarong or, at the very least, a kilt — though the absence of bagpipes suggests this last is a stretch. One mother asked of her son, “Why does he wear a dress?” and was assured by the lad that it was merely a long shirt. Personally, I think this calls for Dr. Falwell and his Tinky-Winky gaydar. I’m still puzzling over the entire concept of a sequence in which the little girl who’s secretly in love with Arnold communes with a huge effigy of her beloved that seems to be crafted out of a teddy bear with a giant vegetable marrow for a head. Now, that’s just downright strange — a few more touches like that and I could see Hey Arnold! The Ordeal becoming a cult hit with the late-night stoner crowd. The animation is crude. The drawing is cruder. The script is virtually nonexistent. And the movie seems endless.
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